A/N: Welcome to the final chapter of this story! I just wanted to reiterate the fact that I am manipulating the medical facts a bit for the sake of the story. I hope you enjoy.
Dean stared at his unconscious brother, struggling to process this new turn of events. He'd had to fight hard to convince the doctors to take him to Sam's room in the ICU, but he had needed to see his brother, to assess his condition for himself. And now the selfish part of him was wishing that he had not come.
He had not been prepared for what he found. Sam looked…like Sam. He looked like the little brother that Dean had not seen in a year and a half. Perhaps it was because he was asleep, and his cold and calculating eyes were hidden behind closed lids. Except he was not asleep; he was in a coma, and there was a cannula of oxygen stretched across his peaceful face and a dozen wires leading from his body.
Dean clenched his fists, longing for an enemy to punch. But there was none, because Dean's body was the traitor, and it was his fault that that this had happened to Sam.
He heard a throat being cleared behind him.
"Hey Bobby," he acknowledged without taking his gaze from his brother.
"How're you holding up, kid?" the older hunter asked.
"This should have been me."
"Sam knew the risks when he agreed to the surgery," he said.
Dean snorted, wincing as the action sent a tremor of pain through his body.
"Yeah, and he did it anyway. What does that say to you?"
"It was still him, Bobby. He was different, but some part of Sam was still in there. And now even that might be gone. Because of me."
"We'll figure something out, Dean," Bobby promised. "We'll find a way to help him if the doctors can't."
Dean shook his head in hopeless frustration.
"Look at me, Bobby," he said softly, gazing up at his friend through eyes that were still slightly yellow with jaundice. "What use can I be to him?"
He'd had to be wheeled here in his bed, for crying out loud.
"None yet," Bobby admitted. "But you'll get better, Dean. Because of Sam, you'll get better, and we'll find a way to help your brother."
Dean did not quite believe Bobby, but it was not like he had many other choices. While he did not plan on staying in his hospital bed for as long as the doctors had recommended, he knew that there was no way he could move yet. He did demand to share a room with Sam again though. It pained him to see his brother in a coma, but it was better than being separated and worrying constantly.
Bobby stayed with the boys, making sure that Dean had everything he needed. He was hovering, but Dean could not bring himself to mind. But he did insist that Bobby go to a motel to get some rest when night fell. The old man groused a bit, but they both knew that there was nothing he could do for either of his boys in the hospital.
"I'll look into some options for Sam," he promised on his way out. Dean just nodded, doubting that he would find anything.
Dean was exhausted, but sleep was still a long time in coming. He found himself staring at Sam's monitors, watching the green line of his brother's pulse jump up and down steadily. Eventually the soothing rhythm lulled him slowly into sleep.
Dean's initial recovery was textbook, and didn't that just figure, because Sam's was anything but. In the days after the surgeries, the younger Winchester remained comatose and unresponsive, and none of the tests that the doctors kept running showed any signs of improvement or change.
Bobby was at the hospital almost constantly during the daylight hours, except for when he was in a library or on the phone, looking for a way to help Sam. But he could not find anything that did not come with one hell of a price tag.
So they waited, and watched as Sam's skin grew paler and his cheeks more sunken and his eyes remained stubbornly closed. The doctors had suggested moving Dean to a different room so that he would not have to watch his brother's deterioration, but they had only made that mistake once.
A few days had passed when woke up to the wailing of an alarm.
His eyes snapped open in an automatic response to the noise, but it took a moment for his brain to catch up with what he was seeing. And then he went cold. Because the alarm was coming from one of Sam's monitors, and people were flooding into the room.
"What's happening?" Dean demanded, elevating his bed because he still could not even sit up on his own.
Nobody answered him, so he just stared in horror as the doctor and nurses swarmed around his brother. His stomach dropped when he saw one of the nurses hand a set of paddles to the doctor.
Dean looked at Sam's heart monitor, which confirmed his worst fear.
That steady green line had gone flat.
Sam's heart had stopped.
Sam's heart had stopped.
Sam's heart had stopped.
"Please," Dean whispered, not sure whom he was talking to as he watched the doctor press the paddles to Sam's chest.
He heard the dull thunk of the defibrillator, and saw Sam's torso arch up ever so slightly. Dean realized that he was holding his breath as he locked his gaze on his brother's monitor again, waiting for the reassuring rhythm that had eased him to sleep to start up again.
Dean heard the soft curse of the doctor, before the man ordered for the paddles to be charged again.
Dean finally resumed breathing after the second charge restarted Sam's heart. The relief on the nurses' faces helped him to relax further. It also told him that it was safe to distract them.
"What just happened?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
The doctor sighed, turning slowly to meet Dean's gaze.
"It's what we were afraid of, Mr. Page," he said solemnly. "Your brother's condition is worsening. His brain is having trouble maintaining his necessary vital functions, like keeping his heart beating."
"So what does that mean?" Dean asked breathlessly, though he suspected he knew the answer.
"It means that you have a decision to make."
"This incident has made it clear that just waiting and hoping for the best isn't a viable option. Sam needs life support. It's your decision whether or not you want to put him on it."
Dean stared at him speechlessly for a moment.
"Of course I want you to put him on it," he said angrily.
The doctor sighed.
"Mr. Page, you have to understand; there's no guarantee that your brother will wake up," he said. "Especially since the fact that his heart stopped indicates that his brain is in even worse shape than we thought. At this point, life support would essentially just be keeping his body alive. Sam probably isn't there anymore."
Dean resisted the urge to tell the doctor that Sam had not been there for more than a year, but that had not stopped either of them. Instead, he just leaned as far towards the man as he could.
"You listen to me," he said, his voice deadly quiet. "My brother is not dying because of me." Not again. "Sam is the toughest, most stubborn fighter I have ever met. So you put him on the damn life support, and you give him the chance to fight."
"All right," said the doctor with a sigh. He turned back to the medical staff surrounding Sam's bed, who had been studiously pretending not to listen. "You heard the man. Take Sam to the cardiac ICU and get him set up."
And with that, Sam was wheeled away. Dean watched him go, a pain that had nothing to do with his recent surgery lancing through him. The doctor gave him a sympathetic glance. But Dean did not want sympathy. Sympathy meant that there was no chance.
"We'll do everything we can for your brother," the doctor promised.
But Dean could see it in his eyes; he thought Sam's case was hopeless. He walked out, leaving Dean alone with far too many thoughts. He considered calling Bobby, but he did not want to hear his friend tell him that maybe it was time to give up on Sam.
"My, my," said a slimy voice from the corner. "Things aren't looking good for moose, are they?"
Dean's entire body tensed painfully, and he reached for a weapon that he was not carrying. He gritted his teeth.
"What do you want, Crowley?" he spat at the demon that had materialized in his room.
"You know, I'm impressed," the king of hell said. "You two have managed to make yourselves even more useless than you were before. I didn't think that was possible."
"I cannot even begin to tell you how much I'm not in the mood for this," said Dean.
"Not in the mood for saving your brother?"
That got Dean's attention.
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply. Crowley rolled his eyes.
"Well, you didn't think I came here to gloat, did you?"
Dean raised an eyebrow at him.
"Okay, I did mostly come to gloat," the demon admitted shamelessly. "But I'm also here to take care of my investments."
"What the hell are you talking about?" growled Dean, already tired of being in the same room as Crowley.
"I'm saying that I'm not done with you and Robocop yet," Crowley said as if he were talking to a seven year old. "Thick as you may be, you were tolerably efficient at bringing me creatures. It would be annoying to have to find another couple of suckers to work for me."
Dean glowered at the demon, but a spark of hope had ignited in his chest.
"Are you saying that you're gonna heal Sam?" he asked.
"And the light bulb goes on at last!" Crowley exclaimed sarcastically.
"Okay, well he's in the ICU."
While Dean did not trust Crowley, he was beginning to suspect that the demon was Sam's only chance. But then Crowley laughed, and Dean's stomach sank.
"You didn't think I'd do it for free, did you?" he asked.
"You'd be doing it so that we'd keep working for you," said Dean. "How exactly is that free?"
"You were working for me in exchange for Sam's soul. You'll have to do something else in exchange for Sam's life."
Of course. Demons always wanted more. Dean was tempted to go tell Crowley to stuff himself, but they both knew that he wouldn't.
"What did you have in mind?" he ground out. Crowley smiled.
"Well, our original contract just went up until Sam's soul was returned. How about we extend that a bit?"
"And by 'a bit', you mean…?"
"A lifetime," said Crowley, mocking tone gone. "You and your brother working for me exclusively until the day your reapers come for you."
"No," said Dean. "No way."
"Oh, don't be like that. We both know it's Sammy's only chance."
"Sam wouldn't want me to save him for a lifetime of being a demon flunky."
"His soul would probably disagree with you. My offer to get it out of the cage still stands. Service to me is a lot better than what Michael and Luci are doing to it right now."
Dean grimace. Crowley had him there. Dean was still haunted by his own memories of hell, and he knew that what Sam was going through was a thousand times worse, and he had already been down there four times longer than Dean had.
Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to start reciting an exorcism and hope for the best, but…
"And after we die?" he whispered.
"Whether you go upstairs or down is up to the powers that be," said Crowley. "I won't claim your souls for hell."
They both fell silent, and Dean considered the offer. It was a crappy one, there was no doubt about it.
He looked over at the space where Sam's bed had been. He blinked away the memory of his brother's limp body arching upwards with the defibrillator.
"I've got a counteroffer," he muttered thickly.
"You get me. Just me, for the rest of my life. I'll do whatever the hell you want me to. But you give Sam his soul back, and then…and then you let him die."
Crowley blinked in surprise, and then his face stretched into a sickening smile.
"Why, Dean," he said slowly. "I'm shocked. After all the effort you've put into keeping gigantor alive, you want me to send Sammy to the other side?"
"Going upstairs early is better than letting him condemn his soul by working for you." Because Dean had no illusions about that. He knew that a lifetime of serving Crowley would result in him doing things that would earn him another ticket to the pit. He would not let that happen to Sam.
Crowley studied him carefully.
"If I agree to that, I lose half of my investment," he said calculatingly.
"Well, if you don't agree to it, you lose your entire investment," Dean retorted. "Your call."
"Fine," said Crowley after a moment of consideration.
Dean's heart squeezed painfully, and a cold sweat broke out across his skin. He did not regret his choice, but he knew that his life was going to be utterly miserable from here on out. And he was going to lose his brother.
"Well?" said Dean when the demon did nothing. "What are you waiting for? Go get Sam's soul."
"Oh no," said Crowley. "That's not how this works. We seal the deal, then I hold up my end."
"I won't back out," said Dean angrily.
"Oh, I'm sure of that," Crowley told him with a smirk. "Especially after we seal it with a kiss."
Dean opened his mouth to tell the demon that there was no way in hell that was going to happen, but he did not get the words out.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said a low, angry voice.
Dean had never been so happy to see Castiel in his life. Or angry.
"Where the hell have you been?" he demanded.
"I'm here now," the angel said. Then he turned to Crowley. "Go."
Dean expected the king of hell to argue, but the demon just vanished without a word. Castiel strode to Dean, placing a hand on his abdomen. The hunter instantly felt better, the pain and sickness of the last few weeks vanishing. He pulled in a deep breath, reveling in the lack of nausea and discomfort.
"You've always had some timing, Cas," he said, looking gratefully up at his friend.
He was still annoyed that the angel had let things get this far, but as Cas had said, he was here now, and he could fix things. Besides, he had just saved Dean from a fate far worse than liver failure.
But Castiel was not looking too great. As soon as the angel had finished healing Dean, he stumbled back and fell into the chair beside the bed, his face strained.
"Hey man, are you okay?" asked Dean in concern. He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting to his feet, somewhat unsteady after days of lying down.
"I'm fine," Castiel assured him, though he sounded exhausted. "But the constant fighting in heaven has weakened me."
"Do you still have enough juice to heal Sam?" asked Dean, kicking himself internally for not making sure that the angel took care of his brother first.
"I should," said Castiel. "Give me a moment."
"Right." Dean felt bad for pressing his friend, but Sam's life was on the line here.
He used the time that Castiel was resting to change into the clothes that he had been admitted in. They were his sleep sweats, and not exactly clean, but they were better than the hospital gown that he had been wearing for the past few days. When he emerged from the bathroom he had used for changing, Castiel was looking slightly better. Well, he was standing at least.
"Things are that bad up there, huh?" Dean asked sympathetically, taking in the angel's pale and unsteady countenance. Castiel nodded grimly.
"I was in the middle of losing a battle to one of Raphael's squadrons when you started calling. I could not abandon my supporters, and it was days before the fighting stopped. But Dean…I am sorry that you and Sam had to go through this."
"It's fine, Cas," said Dean, letting go of some of the last resentment that he had been clinging to. The guy just looked so damn tired. "I get it."
"I sincerely doubt that, but thank you," said Castiel. "You should be fine now. I healed all of your wounds from the surgery. Your liver is still Sam's, but your body won't try to reject it. You shouldn't have to take any medication."
"That's great," said Dean, another worry lifted from his mind. But there was still another fear nagging at him. "And, uh…any traces of, of demon blood?"
Castiel shook his head.
"There were, but I was able to purge the taint from your system before it took hold."
Dean sighed in relief, running a hand through his hair. He had not realized how worried about that he had been.
"Good," he said. "Now how about we go save my little brother?"
Castiel nodded and followed Dean out of the hospital room and down the hall to the ICU. The nurses were stunned to see Dean up and walking around, showing no sign that he'd had major surgery just a few days earlier. He thought about pretending to be his own twin, but he did not think they would buy it. Although, he had used more ridiculous stories in the past. But just as one of the nurses was standing to question him, Castiel waved a hand at her. She sat back down, and all of the other nurses looked away, returning to their work as if Dean and Castiel were not there.
"What did you do to them?" Dean asked, waving a hand in front of a nurse's face, turning to stare at his friend when he got no response.
"I simply warped their perceptions," the angel explained carelessly. "They will not remember seeing us."
"Huh," said Dean. That was a neat trick. He wondered when Cas had learned it.
"Shall we?" asked Castiel, gesturing towards Sam's room.
"Yeah, of course."
Dean and the angel walked into the ICU cubicle, and the feeling in Dean's gut was like waking up from his surgery all over again. Sam looked even worse than he had before. His face was pale and blank, and if that were not bad enough, he had a tube shoved down his throat instead of the basic nasal cannula.
Castiel stepped forward, placing a hand on Sam's forehead. There was a hum of energy, and then Cas broke away. Dean helped his friend to a chair.
"He's healthy now," the angel said once he had slumped into the seat.
Dean glanced at his brother. The younger man looked better, but his eyes were still firmly closed.
"Then why isn't he waking up?" he asked. Castiel sighed.
"Dean…" he began, and the hunter was not a fan of that tone. Castiel looked up at him, seeming to flounder for words. "Don't you think it might be best if…if we just left Sam asleep?"
"What?" asked Dean, and Castiel flinched away from the harshness in his voice.
"Dean, the last time I saw Sam, he was out of control, and I doubt that he's gotten any better in my absence. He's dangerous when he's awake, and we both know it. I just think it might be easiest if we left him in a safe, controlled coma until we figure out how to return his soul to him."
"Listen to me, Cas," said Dean, and the angel sighed, clearly knowing what the rest of his response was going to be. "Sam was hurt because of me. He went out of his way to risk his life to save me. I would have died of liver failure before you bothered to show up if it hadn't been for him. He's still my brother, and we are not gonna leave him like this."
"Dean, you were going to let Crowley kill him."
"Because I thought that was the only way to save his soul, not because I didn't want him around!"
Castiel said nothing, and Dean sighed.
"Just fix him, Cas. Please.
The angel looked up at Dean for a few moments, then it was his turn to sigh again. He stood, resting his hand on Sam's head again. This time the hunter's eyes flew open.
He gagged on the tube in his throat, but before Dean could press the call button to have someone come take it out, Sam had grabbed the damn thing and ripped it out himself. Dean winced, but Sam just coughed and cleared his throat like it was nothing.
"Cas?" he said when he caught sight of the angel. "Nice of you to finally show up."
Castiel rolled his eyes, then turned back to Dean.
"It's been a pleasure," he said, before vanishing with a ruffle of invisible feathers.
Dean should never have taught him sarcasm. But he had more important issues at hand.
"Hey," he said to his little brother. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Was Cas healing me? What happened?" He examined Dean closely for the first time since he woke up. "You look better."
"Yeah, I'm good as new," said Dean. "So are you, by the way. You had some complications, but you're fine now. Nearly gave me a heart attack, but you're fine."
Sam sat up, stretching experimentally. Dean felt a final surge of relief when his little brother showed no signs of pain.
"You were worried about me," Sam stated, staring at Dean.
Of course Dean had been worried about him, but he just shrugged. Displays of affection were not really in his nature, and with Sam's current condition, that went for both of them.
"We should probably get going," he said instead. "The doctors might be a little curious about our mystery healings."
"Yeah, well if I knew Cas was gonna show up, I wouldn't have insisted that we go to the trouble of a hospital and transplant surgery in the first place."
Dean grimaced. He had not been planning on telling Sam about the severity of his complications, but he could not let Sam think that his sacrifice had been for nothing.
"Sam, the doctors gave me three or four days, tops, when I was diagnosed," he began.
"Cas showed up about twenty minutes ago."
"Sam, our surgeries were a week ago."
"What?" asked Sam incredulously. "And I've been asleep this whole time?"
"Yeah. A blood clot traveled to your brain. You were in a coma."
Sam shook his head.
"When exactly were you gonna tell me about that?" he asked.
"You're fine now, Sam," Dean repeated impatiently. "The point is, you saved my life. If it hadn't been for you, I would've died before Cas could save me."
"Oh," was all Sam said.
"Yeah. Now what do you say we get out of here?"
"I'd say that's a good idea," said Sam with a shrug. "As soon as you find me some clothes that don't have an open back."
Dean eyed his brother's hospital gown with a snort. He went back to his room to get Sam's clothes, and then the two of them snuck out of the hospital and into the parking garage with practiced ease. As Dean slid behind the wheel of his beloved impala, he took a deep breath.
"I don't know how much this'll mean to you," he said slowly. "But I will never forget what you did for me. And I will do whatever it takes to get you your soul back."
"Yeah, I know you will," said Sam after a pause. "And you're welcome, Dean."
Dean gave his brother a small smile. It still would not be the same until they got Sam's soul back, but it made the waiting easier knowing that soul or not, the man beside him was still his brother.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I would really appreciate some feedback.